- What is Wayfinding?
- Wayfinding can be described
as the process of using spatial and environmental information
to find our way in the built environment. Wayfinding can also
be defined from the standpoint of the designer & client seeking
to establish or improve the function of a particular environment:
Wayfinding design is the process of organizing spatial and environmental
information to help users find their way. Wayfinding should not
be considered a separate or different activity from traditional
"signage design", but rather a broader, more inclusive
way of assessing all the environmental issues which affect our
ability to find our way. Many of the new "wayfinding"
principles have been practiced by designers for years, but have
now been named, quantified, and wrapped into a more comprehensive
methodology of the design process.
- It should be noted that, although
signage has been the most common solution to wayfinding problems,
the new, broader view offered by a wayfinding design approach
always yields a higher quality communications answer, because
it often identifies the real sources of confusion in the subject
environment, which might be operational, organizational, nomenclature,
staff direction-giving, or the building itself.
- Research at the beginning
of this century by cognitive and behavioral psychologists helped
to define such issues as memory, cognitive mapping, spatial recognition,
and information processing, and began to shed light on how we
use our senses to interpret the physical world, form a plan of
action, and execute that plan to navigate to a desired destination.
- Language of Space
- Most designers, architects,
and researchers recognize the work of Kevin Lynch in his book
"Image of the City" (1960) as being pivotal in professional
thinking about how we understand environments. He coined the
term "way-finding" which we use today as well as terms
describing spatial features. Lynch contended that all urban space
could be described in terms of paths, edges, nodes, landmarks,
and districts. It was this "language of space" which
enabled later researchers to communicate with test subjects about
what they saw, remembered, and used when they tried to find their
way. It has become part of the vocabulary of planners, archtects,
graphic designers, and clients.
- In the 1970's researchers
begain to study how we navigate complex spaces by staging tests
of orientation and memory in large building complexes, building
interiors and malls. These studies revealed that there were many
different levels of ability in "wayfinding" and that
the process was influenced by many environmental factors, such
as building symmetry, user expectation, language, information
from signs, other people, and old memories of being in the environment.
- By the 1980's the work of
Romedi Passini was recognized by the environmental graphics profession
as being seminal in explaining many of the issues which graphic
designers had been dealing with for many years. His research
findings as published in "Wayfinding in Architecture"
(1984) and a book by Passini and Paul Arthur called "Wayfinding
- People, Signs, and Architecture" (1992) gave designers
the structure for describing what the design of wayfinding systems
entailed. (This book has recently been reprinted and can be found
). In some cases the new work ratified the intuition of designers
about good wayfinding design; in other cases it corrected faulty
notions. Best of all, it has given designers and clients a common
language by which to discuss wayfinding needs and solutions.
Although many researchers have published works devoted to the
topic, these are considered the most readable and applicable
to design problems.
- How It Applies to Design
- Out of all this rather esoteric
research and writing have come some general principles which
can be used by designers and clients on design projects. As stated
here, they can apply to many different building types, but specific
differences exist for special types such as hospitals, airports,
retails malls, etc.
- 1. Wayfinding in buildings
and groups of buildings is most affected by the logic of the
architectural arrangement and design. The apparent logic of how
a group of buildings or spaces is arranged affects the user's
ability to understand and remember where he is in the environment.
Visual dominance of entrances, definition of public space from
private space, the ability to visually separate one functional
zone from another, all play an important role in being able to
navigate the space.
- 2. The naming, numbering and
general organization of the parts of a building is a critical,
organizational aspect of a wayfinding plan. Floor numbering,
dedicatory names vs common names, departmental names, stall numbering,
and room numbering must be carefully considered when preparing
message lists for use on signs and when publishing brochures.
Clear, logical hierarchies must exist to help users remember
and use the nomenclature. Symbols, identity, and foreign language
also play an important role.
- 3. People using the environment
bring with them unique abilities, limitations, and memories about
navigating which must be accommodated by any overall wayfinding
strategy. The number of repeat visitors, sight and mobility limitations,
emotional state of the user, and whether the facility is entirely
new or a revision to an early facility all must be taken into
account when developing a wayfinding plan. Special needs populations,
cultural and ethnic minorities, ESL groups, and the elderly all
must be able to use the facility with a mininum of assistance.
- 4. All public information
such as brochures, mailers, news ads, radio/TV ads and even informal
hand-outs become part of the user's information on how to use
the environment. All forms of public information must be consistent
in their representations about the faciltity in order for communication
to be clear; published maps must agree with facility maps, driving
instructions must agree with how the facility is actually accessed,
and type size & contrast must all be legible.
- 5. Direction-giving by staff
and other occupants of the building are an essential part of
the user's environmental influences and must be organized and
trained wherever possible. An explanation of how the signs and
other wayfinding devices are intended to work can help staff
give clearer, more helpful directions. Training sessions which
teach proper nomenclature, how to assess the special needs of
the user, and practice sessions on direction-giving all contribute
to a comprehensive wayfinding plan.
- 6. A clear, organized set
of sign elements can be the most cost-effective solution to wayfinding
improvements in an existing building. However, only when the
other issues above are well-understood can such conventional
devices as signs and directories be employed as part of the solution.
Related graphic devices such as wall and floor graphics, strategic
placement of sculpture, art programs, and computerized information
kiosks are all potential elements in a successful wayfinding
- For more information, please
contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.